Jindal, former minister charged in coal allocation case

New Delhi, June 11 (IANS) Industrialist-lawmaker Naveen Jindal and former minister of state for coal Dasari Narayana Rao are among those against whom the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Tuesday filed cases for alleged irregularities in coal-block allotments.

"It is alleged that two steel and iron companies based in Delhi misrepresented facts to get coal-blocks. Also, there was alleged investment in a Hyderabad-based firm from the group of companies based at Delhi," the premier probe agency said.

The reference was to allocation of the Amarkonda Murgadangal coal-block in Jharkhand to Jindal Steel and Gagan Sponge, besides two of Jindal's group companies -- Jindal Realty and ND Exim. Rao's company Saubhagya Media has also been named in the case.

They have all been accused of staging a criminal conspiracy and cheating under various sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Both Jindal and Rao are members of the ruling Congress party.

"Searches are being conducted today at 19 locations in Delhi and Hyderabad in connection with the case," the agency said.

"A preliminary enquiry to examine the irregularities in allocation of coal-blocks during the period 2006-2009 was registered on reference of Central Vigilance Commissioner in June 2012. Earlier CBI had registered 12 cases in the allocations so far."

The news immediately pulled down the shares of Jindal Steel by nearly 20 percent.

The matter had taken a serious turn last year when the Comptroller and Auditor General said in a report that lack of transparency in allocating coal mines to private players had caused a whopping Rs.1.85-lakh crore ($37 billion) loss to the exchequer.

Jindal Steel maintained it has been assisting CBI in the probe.

"Jindal Steel and Power Ltd, as a law abiding company, is governed by a strong ethical code of conduct. This is an ongoing CBI investigation into coal-block allocations," said Manu Kapoor, chief of external affairs with the company.

"At this stage of investigation, Jindal Steel is committed to fully cooperate with CBI."

The probe agency had told the Supreme Court, which is monitoring the case, that there had been massive irregularities and illegalities in the allocation of coal mines. The coal portfolio during that time was with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself.

The issue had even cost Ashwini Kumar the law minister's job when it came to light that he had sought and vetted a CBI report before it was submitted in Supreme Court -- a matter which the apex court did not take too kindly.

Rao, who was questioned by the probe agency last year, was the union minister of state for coal between 2006 and 2009 when the irregularities allegedly took place. The 66-year-old actor-producer was Congress party's Rajya Sabha member then.

The opposition was quick to react to Tuesday's developments.

"We welcome the case registered against former minister of state for coal Dasari Narayan Rao and industrialist Naveen Jindal. But this is too little and too late," Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said.

"On our complaint, the CBI started probing the case 15 months ago and now they will get nothing out of the raids. The CBI should go for money trail as it is a monumental corruption of Rs.50 lakh crore," he said.

"There has been massive cover up. We have seen how the (central) government tried to change the whole report to save the prime minister as he was the coal minister then."

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